Sunday, February 16, 2014

Did you feel it too?

This has been quite a week. First we have winter weather for the second time this year. Then, just when we begin to dig out and relax, Mother Nature decides to “poke” us with a little earthquake on Valentine’s evening. I’m not complaining, mind you, we kept our power in the ice and the quake did no damage. In fact, since the first snow the last week of January, we have had plenty to talk about around here.

We even had a visit by The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore, the man that does his level best to be in the middle of the worst weather in the country. Fortunately for us, Jim left for Augusta before the storm hit thus single handedly moving the epicenter of the bad ice 70 miles away from us. We even avoided a repeat of the video bomber attack that Jim so deftly turned away with his right knee down in Charleston in January. I’m so glad that the frat boys over at USC didn’t have a chance to escalate the lunacy initiated by those guys from the College of Charleston.

Now if I happen to see a pickup truck being driven around the corner by Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton, I’m outta here! Tornadoes occasionally happen here. One hit a little close to home in 1974 when it took down the tower of a radio station I worked for a few years before and passed right past the TV station I was in. They do indeed sound like railroad trains going by. Seeing that tower, all twisted around the base and the tuning house gave me a real respect for tornadoes, even if they are as small that this one was, it was only an EF-1.

All of this was new to me, I never had any of these experiences growing up, just the occasional hurricane threat. They hit farther downstate and some came close but somehow a hurricane never hit Jacksonville directly while I lived there. It wasn’t until I moved from Florida to South Carolina to go to college in 1963 that I was hit by a hurricane, saw snow or felt an earthquake and, believe it or not, the earthquake came first, it happened in 1964 and my first snow wasn’t until the next year. Hurricanes waited until 1989 when Hurricane Hugo came through with 100 MPH winds in my neighborhood.

I think earthquakes are the scariest of all of these. The others you can see coming thanks to the greatly improved weather models we have these days. But earthquake prediction is still more of an art than a science. None of the handful of earthquakes I’ve experienced had a warning. Things were normal then "BAM," they weren’t. That makes them a little more unnerving than the other stuff. All but one of them were nothing more than tremors that ranged from barely perceptible to the one last week that lasted 4 -5 seconds and shook the house like a train coming down the street. Hmm, there we go with that train analogy again. I wonder if Mother Nature is a railroad engineer.

My big earthquake was experienced in Sunnyvale California in the 1980’s. I was receiving training on a computer driven video editing system and the hotel where I was staying was in a quiet neighborhood in the middle of Silicone Valley off of Highway 101 between San Francisco and San Jose. I was awakened in the middle of the night by the dogs in the neighborhood howling. As I lay there deciding whether or not to get up and see if I could see what was happening, I heard a low rumble coming down the highway. It sounded like a truck dragging a log behind it. When it passed the hotel, the room lurched 6 inches to the right then back to where it started and then quivered like a bowl full of jelly. A couple of things fell off the dresser but that was about it. Wow, I thought, a real California Earthquake. It was pretty moderate as they go, 7.1 on the Richter scale. I was able to get back to sleep shortly thereafter and that was my mistake. The aftershock came along about an hour later and shocked me out of a sound sleep. The next morning, the locals teased me about my red rimmed eyes, telling me that experienced residents of quake country always wait until the aftershock passes before trying to sleep again.

When the quake hit last Friday night, we were watching a local television newscast. The on air reaction of the news team was kind of funny to watch. The weather guy and the female anchor were easterners with little or no quake experience. Their reaction was more like “what the heck is happening” than anything else. However the male anchor person is an ex-Californian who lived through the Northridge quake of January 17, 1994 that closed portions of Interstate 10 Interstate 5 and Interstate 210, with structural failure or collapse. By time the five seconds of swinging and swaying ended, he had nearly disconnected his microphone and IFB earplug and was ready to exit the 6th floor studio. It was another 5 or 10 seconds before I realized what had really happened. I was on the way to the front door to survey the damage that “train” did to our street. Oh MY!

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